The Constitutional Court ruled that no child under the age of 18 should enter into marriage in terms of the Constitution. The judgment struck down Section 22 (1) of the Marriages Act (Chapter 5:11) which allows children of 16 years to marry, saying it was unconstitutional.
It also declared that Section 78 (1) of the Constitution sets 18 years as the minimum age of marriage and that any law to the contrary was unconstitutional. The symposium was held under the theme "After the constitutional judgment, what next?"
Minister Chikwinya said concrete steps had to be taken for the objectives of the ruling to be achieved.
"A lot has to be done in terms of legislation, policy and implementation so as to buttress the objectives of the ruling," she said.
"We will be tabling a Bill in Parliament in the coming two to three weeks where we expect it to sail through, so that the ruling is in line with the country's laws."
She expressed Government's commitment to ensuring that necessary measures, including policy, legislative and administrative, are put in place to respond to child marriages.
Her ministry was working with the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs on re-aligning the legislation.
Minister Chikwinya said Government was also aware of contentious issues arising from the ruling such as the gap between the age of marriage and age of consent.
The age of marriage is set at 18 while that of consent remains at 16.
"My ministry will push to ensure that the age of consent is aligned to the age of marriage so that we also protect our young girls from unwanted pregnancies," she said.
The minister said there was need for a robust campaign against child marriages as the law in itself was not adequate to address the problem.
"The robust campaign will target religious leaders, traditional leaders, young people and communities in general."
She said there was need to target the population and deal with the scourge on the ground.
"Outlawing and banning child marriages must be felt at grassroots level to deter would-be perpetrators," she said.
Meanwhile, Harare lawyer Mr Tendai Biti, who represented Ms Loveness Mudzure (19) and Ms Ruvimbo Tsopodzi (18), in the court case, reiterated that the Constitutional Court judgment was not enough.
Besides calling for the amendment of the laws on marriage, there was need for the introduction of legislation to deal with sexual offences.
"Although the judgment is just a start, it is a good start. There is need to work on laws such as the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act to rationalise the issues of sentences, protect and promote, while coming up with a new Sexual Offences Bill dealing with such issues," he said.
Ms Mudzure and Ms Tsopodzi approached the Constitutional Court arguing that they were victims of child marriages and were now fighting for the rights of the girl child.
Mr Biti successfully convinced the court that the marriage law and the practice complained of was a violation of the children's rights.
By Sydney Kawadza
Source: The Herald (Harare) – AllAfrica.com